Zika virus 'a game-changer' for mosquito-borne diseases

The Zika virus, unlike other mosquito-borne viruses such as dengue, is relatively unknown and unstudied. That is set to change since Zika, now spreading through Latin America and the Caribbean, has been associated with an alarming rise in babies born in Brazil with abnormally small heads and brain defects – a condition called microcephaly.

“This is a huge public health emergency and horrible on many levels,” says Uriel Kitron, chair of Emory’s Department of Environmental Sciences and an expert in vector-borne diseases, which are transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks or other organisms. Dr. Kitron is a faculty member in the PBEE program.

For the past several years, Kitron has collaborated with Brazilian scientists and health officials to study the dengue virus, which is spread by the same mosquito species, Aedes aegypti, as Zika. The focus of that collaboration is now shifting to Zika. Kitron will return to Salvador, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia, in February to support the country’s research strategies and control efforts for the outbreak.

Aedes aegypti are like “the roaches” of the mosquito world, perfectly adapted to living with humans, especially in urban environments, says Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec, another disease ecologist in Emory’s Department of Environmental Sciences who studies vector-borne diseases. He is also a faculty member in the PBEE program.

Vazquez-Prokopec specializes in spatial analysis of disease transmission patterns and has several research projects for dengue fever ongoing in Latin America. He is traveling to the Brazilian capital of Brasilia in February to assist the country’s vector control team as they continue to battle the outbreak through mosquito control.

Click here to view the full story in eScienceCommons. The story is also featured in the Emory News Center. Related stories are also featured in USA TodayBBC NewsAtlanta Journal-Constitution, Daily MailAtlanta Jewish TimesAustin American-Statesman, and Thomson Reuters.